Popular Spots for Uncommon Winter Activities in the Finger Lakes, Part 2
The mid-winter snow is falling! You might be familiar with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, but what about fat biking or skate skiing? If you can get your hands on the right gear and have a good sense of adventure, the Finger Lakes region has excellent options for cold-weather fun. Check out these uncommon activities and popular spots for mixing up your winter routine.
Yes, you heard that right—fat bikes. No need to wait for optimal trail conditions when you can ride through snow, mud, sand, and other loose terrain. The larger surface area of a fat bike’s tires provides more traction and stability and facilitates weight dispersal, perfect for slippery environments. So, no more dreaming of dry trails all winter long. Saddle up and ride at these popular spots where small groups of ambitious bikers are sure to be found.
With a side-to-side movement similar to ice skating, skate skiing is a style of cross-country that allows for a faster and more rigorous pace. Skate skiers use a V-shape technique and shorter skis to achieve a gliding motion as they move through the winter landscape. To cover more ground and achieve an invigorating speed, groomed trails are the preferred terrain. Here are a few locations for your skate skiing adventures:
Trail running doesn’t have to end when the snow starts falling thanks to running-specific snowshoes. Smaller and lighter than hiking models, running snowshoes are designed to grip the snow without excessive flopping. It’s a strenuous exercise involving whole-body movements that will keep you in excellent shape through the winter. Conquer the cold at one of these locations, just remember to run on the side of ski trails to avoid making postholes.
Popular Spots for Uncommon Winter Activities in the Finger Lakes, Part 1
Winter is here, hearty Finger Lakers! Shake off that cabin fever and tackle the winter elements with a cold weather adventure. With proper planning and appropriate equipment, getting outside this time of year can lift the spirits and improve physical health. Whether you are a seasoned adventurer or just want to try something new, explore these winter activities and celebrated Finger Lakes locations to mix up your winter routine.
If you love a challenge and dislike mosquitos or crowds, winter camping can be an invigorating experience. A surprising number of people delight in cold, crisp nights under starry skies with days spent hiking or cross-country skiing. In the Finger Lakes, there are several options for tent camping or staking claim to one of the region’s celebrated lean-tos. Check out these locations for an immersive winter experience.
You can find animal tracks and signs in many places throughout the year however, there is something magical about looking for them in the snow. Plenty of creatures are actively searching for food in winter and leave behind clues about their behavior. Locations with diverse habitats including fields, forests, creeks, and ponds will produce interesting finds. Here are some locations that fit the bill.
If hiking through a snow-covered landscape while breathing in cool, refreshing air and marveling at beautiful waterfalls is your idea of fun, the Finger Lakes region is the place to be. While most gorge trails are closed in winter for safety reasons, there are still many locations to discover. Here is a list of places where hikers can enjoy winter waterfall scenery.
Best Locations for Solitude on the Trail in the Finger Lakes
Fall is a season of change, heralded by the arrival of colder nights, shorter days, and changing leaves. The transition from long summer days to hectic school and work schedules can be stressful, especially during the pandemic. Many studies have shown that immersion in nature contributes positively to mental and physical wellbeing. If you are seeking a bit of solitude on the trail, consider a long hike at one of these locations.
Southwest of Skaneateles Lake, this sprawling 3,316-acre forest features over 15 miles of multiuse trails and miles of quiet, unpaved roads. The trails weave around and up-and-over two ridges that flank Bear Swamp Creek. As such there are some climbs and descents when moving east-to-west, but the terrain is mostly flat while moving north-south.
Hikers looking for a quiet and secluded setting need look no further than the roughly 8-mile Abbott Loop in the Danby State Forest. Though the forest is relatively close to Ithaca—less than 10 miles—its 7,337 acres feel perfectly isolated and tranquil. It is a favorite spot for Ithaca hikers, but the lengthy trail proves the old maxim that a little distance will ensure solitude along the trail.
Five miles west of Corning, the Erwin Wildlife Management Area (WMA) features over 2,490 acres of prime wildlife habitat and more than ten miles of trails. Deep gullies with hemlock-shaded streams add a primeval feel in sections, while deciduous forests in various states of succession make up the majority of the woodland.
The national forest is home to over thirty miles of trails which have a mixture of uses ranging from hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, and horseback riding. Though a short portion of the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) crosses the southern boundary of the forest, much of the trail system is closely tied to the twelve mile north-south-oriented Interloken Trail — a branch trail along the FLT.
There are many beautiful places to get outdoors in the Finger Lakes, but few allow you to explore the shores of an actual Finger Lake. Not so for the trails in Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. Lacking the typical houses and cottages as well as large noisy boats, exploring Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is like stepping back in time to behold the Finger Lakes in their natural state. With over 20 miles of multiuse trails there is a lot to do and see.
There are over a dozen miles of hiking trails as well as a network of access roads in the 3,400-acre upland portion of High Tor WMA. The climbing is steep but once you reach the top, the hiking is fairly level. The mix of roads and footpaths wind their way through open fields and dense woodlands with the occasional wooded glen and pond to spice up the experience.
For hikers who hate to retrace their steps, you can’t go wrong in choosing from the many loop hikes at James Kennedy State Forest. The 4,422-acre forest is a packed collection of named trails, including short, one-mile family-friendly loops; short half-day loops; and, figure-eights or more convoluted patterns to hike all day or overnight.
Trails here are part of the Six Nations Trail System, a network of roughly forty miles of trails that covers this and ten other nearby state forests. The vast majority of these trails reside within Sugar Hill State Forest. Also of note, because of the structure of the trail network, Sugar Hill State Forest has one of the more extensive Motorized Access Programs for People with Disabilities. Unlike some accessible systems that tend to remain close to civilization’s edge, the accessible sections here allow for very far-removed and wild experiences.
Free Places to See Summer Waterfalls in the Finger Lakes Region!
If the best things in life are free, the Finger Lakes region is exceptional for its no-cost outdoor recreation opportunities. This rainy summer is the perfect time to explore the area, most notably the countless waterfalls and creeks that define this iconic landscape. We invite you to leave your wallet at home and head outdoors to experience the gorgeous natural beauty of our region’s waterscapes.
Cascadilla Gorge is a stunningly beautiful connective corridor that runs from downtown Ithaca to the Cornell University campus. The gorge is a short three-quarters of a mile in length, but it is long on amazing waterscapes. There are eight sizeable waterfalls that range from eight to 80 feet in height along this handsome stretch of Cascadilla Creek.
Experience two stunning 60-foot falls at this Ontario County park in Naples by wandering ½ mile or slightly more from the parking area. Waterfall sightseers should expect to get their feet wet since the gorge narrows upstream. Visitors are advised to stay on the trail after heavy rain.
Opportunities abound for all types of outdoor enthusiasts at the High Tor Wildlife Management Area in Naples, including hiking, biking, and paddling. Creek walking and gorge exploration also top the list at both Conklin Gully-Parish Glen and Clark Gully, two well-known gorges with beautiful waterfalls.
A winding stream accompanies hikers, runners, bikers, and even equestrians along the 6.8-mile Keuka Outlet Trail, home to two impressive waterfalls. The most notable is Seneca Mill Falls located at about the midpoint of the trail near the pavilion at the Lion Bruce Hansen Memorial Park. Many people stop here to view the falls and picnic.
The most popular destination in Labrador Hollow in Tully is the universally accessible, quarter-mile path to Tinker Falls. Tinker Falls is a stunning example of a “hanging” falls. Its origin dates back to when New York and much of the North American continent were part of an inland sea.
Lick Brook Gorge in Ithaca is a popular hiking spot that connects to Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert H. Treman State Park via the Finger Lakes Trail. The Sweedler and Thayer Preserves, along with the adjacent 27-acre Lick Brook Natural Area, provide excellent examples of the area’s geologic history. Multiple waterfalls splash down along Lick Brook on its journey to Cayuga Lake, including one that is nearly 140 feet tall.
Favorite Camping Spots in the Finger Lakes Region!
Summer is here and it’s time to dust off that camping gear! The Finger Lakes region has plenty of locations to pitch your tent for a night under the stars. Iconic state parks offer various amenities for a complete outdoor experience, while state forests boast miles of hiking trails and plenty of solitude. For all you happy campers out there, explore some of our favorite spots in the Finger Lakes. For more suggestions, check out the map with the camping filter selected.
Camping is permitted throughout the 3,446-acre Birdseye Hollow State Forest following the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) at-large camping guidelines. The state forest also has seven designated primitive lakeside campsites along the shores of Sanford Lake. These sites require a permit and campers must pre-register at the DEC office in Bath; note that permits are limited from Memorial Day through Labor Day and are not available on site.
The Finger Lakes National Forest is home to over thirty miles of multiuse trails and three campgrounds which require a fee: Backbone Horse Camp which is mainly for equestrians, Potomac Group Campground for group camping by reservation, and Blueberry Patch Campground which has nine primitive campsites. Backpackers may camp anywhere within the national forest as long as they are at least 50 feet from streams, ponds, trails, and developed areas, and secondly, not within the pastures from May through October.
With nearly 20 miles of trails, old-growth forests, two pristine lakes, boat rentals, 137 campsites, a sandy swimming beach, and even golf courses (traditional and disc versions), there are numerous ways to get outside and enjoy Green Lakes State Park for an extended visit. At the heart of the 1,955-acre park are two natural wonders: meromictic lakes — a unique condition where surface waters and deeper waters do not intermix.
The 5,284-acre Morgan Hill State Forest remains the destination of choice for more serious hikers, backpackers, and those who want an extra challenge. In addition to backcountry camping, there is a lean-to as well as twelve roadside tent campsites near Spruce Pond. Camping here is free but requires a permit through the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Cortland office.
In addition to its iconic namesake waterfall, Taughannock Falls State Park is home to a popular campground that is bustling with activity all summer long. Campsites and cabins are available by reservation, and campers can take advantage of the park’s many amenities during their stay. Over seven miles of hiking trails—including both a gorge and rim trail—a swimming beach, marina, large playground, and ample picnic tables and grills make this state park a premier camping destination.
May is National Barbecue Month! Enjoying a picnic or barbecue is one of the most enjoyable warm-weather activities to share with friends and family. The Finger Lakes offers ideal locations with amenities such as picnic tables, grills, restrooms, and plenty of gorgeous scenery. If dining outdoors by a picturesque lake or waterfall is your thing, we invite you to explore our top ten favorite spots in the region.
This 3,446-acre state forest in Bath has two day-use areas, two paddling opportunities—Sanford Lake and Birdseye Hollow Pond– and nearly 11 miles along the Finger Lakes Trail. Pavilions and picnic benches dot both of the day-use areas with other amenities to boot. The 18-acre Sanford Lake has an easily accessible boat launch, while Birdseye Hollow Pond has a fishing pier and direct access to the trail network.
Located at the southern edge of Ithaca, this popular state park has an upper and lower section, both offering plenty of recreational opportunities. At the base of Buttermilk Falls is a verdant lawn, the perfect setting for a picnic with a gorgeous waterfall in view. The upper section of the park includes 1.5 miles (one way) of hiking trails, picnic areas with grills, and Lake Treman.
This beautiful park in the quiet village of Moravia features campgrounds, a swimming area, and stunning waterfalls. Stone-walled paths, numerous bridges that crisscross the oddly named Dry Creek, and stone staircases are thoughtfully blended with the stunning natural setting of this deep gorge. The whole family can enjoy these natural marvels with plenty of picnic tables and pavilion spaces to spend a day in the park.
Nestled in the quiet hamlet of Branchport, sits the Finger Lakes Museum which offers public access to Keuka Lake via Sugar Creek. The museum’s 16-acre Townsend-Grady Wildlife Preserve, located at the north end of the west branch of the lake, has a series of maintained trails and a boardwalk with a beautiful octagon pavilion. Here, you can enjoy a picnic lunch by accessing the pavilion on foot from the hiking trail, or by canoe or kayak, tying off at the small craft dock on the lake.
There are several picnic areas and pavilions to choose from at this unique state park in Fayetteville, including one overlooking the sandy swimming area. With nearly 20 miles of trails, old-growth forests, two pristine lakes, and boat rentals, there are numerous ways to get outside and enjoy a full day at Green Lakes State Park.
With picturesque panoramic views of Honeoye Lake and its steep-sided valley, Harriet Hollister offers a bit more solitude than the region’s lively state parks. A popular spot for Rochester-area recreationists, the recreation area offers over 20 miles of trails for hiking and biking. Visitors can enjoy a small picnic area with tables and benches located in the main park, or a bench on the Overlook Trail.
Considered one of the best multiuse trails in the region, this 6.8-mile pathway stretches from Penn Yan to Dresden and follows a winding stream with two impressive waterfalls. The most notable is Seneca Mill Falls located at about the midpoint of the trail near the pavilion at the Lion Bruce Hansen Memorial Park. Many people stop here to view the falls and picnic.
Enjoy a full day at this community park which features picnic areas with tables and grills, ball fields, restrooms, play structures, and pavilions. This 400-acre county park has a vast network of trails, over 10 miles in total, which weave through the woodland and over steepened hillsides of the Bristol Valley. The popular “Jump Off” overlook offers a stunning panoramic view of the western horizon.
With a beautiful view of Seneca Lake at its center, Sampson State Park is ideal for enjoying a sunset barbecue or daytime picnic. With grills, restrooms, a swimming area, playgrounds, hiking trails, and more, there is something for everyone. And, as the former site of a World War II naval base and Korean War airfield, the site also holds particular appeal for military history enthusiasts.
While the iconic falls that are the namesake of this impressive park are undoubtedly its most popular attraction, an abundance of picnic areas also draw visitors to celebrate its charm. Grills and picnic tables dot the lakeside portion of the park, offering warm breezes and gorgeous views of Cayuga Lake. Equipped with state park amenities such as a swimming area, playground, and restrooms, there is even a summer concert series to entertain folks of all ages (currently on hold due to the pandemic).
Spring is here, and it’s the perfect time to explore the Finger Lakes region’s rail trails. Repurposed from abandoned rail lines, these mostly flat and broad pathways provide hikers, runners, and cyclists ample opportunities for getting outside and avoiding muddier trails. Traversing both urban and rural landscapes, multiuse rail trails often connect to other protected lands such as state parks. Explore some of the best in the region!
Though evocative of a hazardous downhill ski run, the 8.4-mile Black Diamond Trail is actually a broad, mostly level, multiuse trail. Its stone dust surface makes the trail a pleasure to ride on or to stroll along in what is essentially a picturesque tree-lined alleyway. The grade slopes downward most of the way from Taughannock Falls State Park in Trumansburg to Cass Park in Ithaca.
The 14-mile Catharine Valley Trail follows the old Chemung Barge Canal tow path and sections of the abandoned Northern Central Rail lines. Contiguous from downtown Watkins Glen to Mark Twain State Park, it’s a great natural corridor that utilizes compact stone dust paths that are an absolute pleasure to walk or bike.
The Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail follows an old railroad bed beside a canal that links the two largest Finger Lakes while connecting picturesque villages along the way. Presently, 6.7 of the eventual 19 miles are finished and open to the public. Current access to the eastern end of the trail is in Waterloo while the western end can be accessed at Seneca Lake State park or at the Bishop Nature Preserve, owned by the Finger Lakes Land Trust.
Connecting Rochester and Cuba (NY), the Genesee Valley Greenway is a wonderful example of repurposed infrastructure, towpaths and railroad beds, into a new vibrant multiuse trail. Ninety miles of trail means it is unlikely you will make the trip in one day (it is certainly possible for dedicated cyclists), but the long trek traveler will be happy to know that accommodations are accessible along the route.
The Jim Schug Trail weaves its way from Main Street in Dryden through Dryden Lake Park and ends at an intersection with the Finger Lakes Trail. The majority of the trail is flanked by swamps, wetlands, and ponds with the more remote and wild portions bordering Dryden Lake Park to the north and south. Currently 4.2 miles long, there are plans to extend the trail another 3.3 miles.
A winding stream accompanies hikers, runners, bikers and even equestrians along the 6.8-mile Keuka Outlet Trail. The trail follows a generally downhill course from the outlet of Keuka Lake in Penn Yan to the inlet along Seneca Lake in Dresden. The trail varies from paved sections in Penn Yann to broad stone dust paths to mixed gravel to worn single track.
Connecting various towns and villages in eastern Ontario County, Ontario Pathways is a flat, 25-mile, multiuse trail route open year-round for hiking, biking, running, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. The trail is comprised of two “legs,” each approximately 11.5 miles long: the Canandaigua leg, stretching from Canandaigua to Stanley, and the Phelps leg, which extends from Stanley through Flint, Seneca Castle, Orleans, and ends in Phelps.
Your All-Purpose Adventure Kit for Early Spring Weather
Early spring weather is unpredictable. Anything is possible: cold rain, warm sunshine, ferocious wind, and sometimes, lots of mud. Should you hike, bike, visit a nature center, or go for a run? You can use these lists created by the staff at the Finger Lakes Land Trust to choose your next outdoor adventure. And don’t forget to follow best practices when you’re out on the trails!
Nothing beats a forest filled with birdsong and the sweet scents of new life blooming everywhere. In the Finger Lakes region, there are many options for an extended trek filled with endless trails and gorgeous scenery. Immerse yourself in the ephemeral beauty of spring and hit the trail at one of these locations.
Repurposed from abandoned rail lines, these mostly flat and broad pathways provide hikers, runners, and cyclists ample opportunities for getting outside and avoiding muddier trails. Traversing both urban and rural landscapes, multiuse rail trails often connect to other protected lands such as state parks. Explore some of the best in the region!
Here in the Finger Lakes region, there are a few hikes along the FLT that really stand out, including hikes that pass through Finger Lakes Land Trust nature preserves, New York state forests, and county parks. We invite you to explore some of the best.
Are you ready to take your running from the roads to the trails? Or perhaps you are already a trail runner looking for more of a challenge? Fortunately, the Finger Lakes region offers plenty of workout options for trail runners of all kinds.
Dogs make great hiking companions and can bring tremendous joy to your outdoor adventures, but not all trails are dog-friendly. Fortunately, the Finger Lakes region offers plenty of places to get outside with your canine friends. Here are a few of our favorites, from locations with firm leash policies to places where your furry friends have a bit more freedom.
With its glacially carved landscapes, majestic forests, sparkling lakes, and unique flora and fauna, the Finger Lakes region is alive with natural wonder. Interpreting it all are the many nature centers that provide environmental education and recreational opportunities for visitors and residents alike.
With late fall in the Finger Lakes comes hunting season and many of your favorite trails and outdoor locations may be closed or have limited access. For anyone looking for open space and peace of mind without trail closures, explore this small list of places where hunting is not allowed during the fall and winter hunting season this year, October 1 through December 22, 2020.
Rolling wooded hills, well-groomed trails, and varied niches make this small gem in Marcellus a must visit for all members of the family. Short trails through an arboretum as well as wildflower and herb gardens near the John A. Weeks Interpretive Center are perfect for those who just want a brief, easy stroll. The longer Valley, Boundary, and Field to Forest trails offer extended trips to expand the experience and are thoroughly enjoyable by hikers of all levels.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, more commonly known as Sapsucker Woods, is a birding haven and great resource for long time birders and those with an aspiring interest. Four miles of trails wander through the 230-acre sanctuary, with multiple interconnected loops that can be intermixed for longer trips. The mostly level trails weave through deep woods, atop boardwalks in swamps, and beside ponds bursting with wildlife of all kinds.
Twelve miles of trails, open dawn to dusk year round, weave through meadow, forest, and scrub land, often neighboring or encircling the numerous ponds and varied wetlands found throughout the 430-acre property in Cortland. The deep forest sections found along the Mill Pond Trail feature large diameter trees that are reminiscent of the old growth forest found at Green Lakes State Park.
An easy meandering trail accessed from the south parking area of this Finger Lakes Land Trust preserve in Dryden leads you through a meadow that encircles a beautiful evergreen plantation. Follow the spur trail and you will find yourself in a mature forest that leads to the hemlock-studded gorge and waterfalls along Six Mile Creek. Please note that while hunting is prohibited in the Roy H. Park Preserve, it is allowed in the adjacent Hammond Hill State Forest which can be accessed from the preserve’s northern entrance.
The 793-acre Steege Hill Nature Preserve in Big Flats has seven miles of hiking trails and is the Finger Lakes Land Trust’s largest conservation area. Located on a hilltop high above the Chemung River, hikers can choose from a series of connected loop trails for longer or shorter hikes.
The Tanglewood Nature Center in Elmira is home to a six-mile trail system. Multiple loops of varying difficulty and length, allow for leisurely strolls in the meadows or more vigorous excursions through the woodland. The trails are peppered with placards that have quotes from Mark Twain whose wit and thoughts help frame our views of nature in new and amusing ways.
*The Baltimore Woods Interpretive Center, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Lime Hollow visitor centers, and Tanglewood Nature Center Museum are currently closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trails are open with social distancing practices in place.
*Please be advised that hunting may be occurring on adjacent properties. We encourage every outdoor enthusiast to wear blaze orange, pink, or another bright color, especially during fall and winter. Doing so will allow you to be seen more easily and from greater distances. Learn more about hiker safety during hunting season.
Easygoing Autumn Hikes for Families and Seniors in the Finger Lakes Region
The Finger Lakes region is known for its rugged gorges, forested hillsides, and eleven awe-inspiring lakes. However, not all outdoor adventures require you to exceed your comfort level or ability. For families, seniors, or anyone looking for a leisurely stroll, there are many beautiful places to explore the natural and cultural history of our region.
The Catharine Valley Trail is contiguous from downtown Watkins Glen to the hamlet of Pine Valley. It’s a great natural corridor that utilizes compact stone dust paths that are an absolute pleasure to walk or bike. Birdwatching opportunities await at the nearby Queen Catharine Marsh, accessible from the trail. When complete, the route will be roughly 12 miles long and will connect the communities of Watkins Glen, Montour Falls, Millport, Pine Valley and Horseheads.
This trail follows an old railroad bed beside the Cayuga-Seneca Canal. The western end can be accessed by parking at Seneca Lake State Park or at the Bishop Nature Preserve, owned by the Finger Lakes Land Trust. The preserve has a large gravel parking area off West River Road and a newly constructed path that connects directly to the trail. Once on the canal trail, you can walk or bike along a broad, level, stone dust trail. Free of obstructions, the path allows you to take in the sights of the pastoral landscape.
There is something for everyone at the Cornell Botanic Gardens, formerly known as the Cornell Plantations. There are hiking trails, nature walks, gardens, ponds, woodlands, meadows, glens, and more. The more cultivated and landscaped gardens and arboretum are ideal for young children, elderly parents, or simply for anyone wishing for a leisurely stroll.
Experience firsthand the customs and beliefs of the Seneca at Ganondagan State Historic Site. Open year-round, the 7.6-mile trail system features a series of interconnected paths that can be adjusted for longer or shorter hikes. The Trail of Peace is a 0.8-mile mowed loop trail which passes the Bark Longhouse and details Seneca oral tradition, how the Haudenosaunee became a confederacy, and the story of the original town of Ganondagan. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of birds that inhabit the meadows here along this mostly level path.
The most popular destination in Labrador Hollow is the universally accessible, quarter-mile path to Tinker Falls. Tinker Falls is a stunning example of a “hanging” falls. Its origin dates back to when New York and much of the North American continent was part of an inland sea. Additionally, the Labrador Hollow accessible boardwalk is nearly 2,000 feet in length and traverses a diverse wetland complex that provides a glimpse of New York’s flora and fauna.
The Tanglewood Nature Center features a variety of wildlife exhibits and a six-mile trail system. Multiple loops of varying difficulty and length, allow for leisurely strolls in the meadows or more vigorous excursions through the woodland. The trails are peppered with placards that have quotes from Mark Twain whose wit and thoughts help frame our views of nature in new and amusing ways.
This list was compiled as a general guide for families and seniors wishing to get outdoors. Visitors should check the web site for each trail, nature center, etc., for specific details on closings and other restrictions due to Covid-19.